By Brad Wharton
Creamfields, August 24th, 2014: Norman Cook, better known to the world by his DJ moniker Fatboy Slim, was about to take to the main North Stage. He was second-billed behind Calvin Harris, but it didn’t matter. As the familiar first notes of his set opener “Right Here, Right Now” sent the crowd into rapture, the cameras focused on a sticker that adorned the back of his laptop. It’s bold white lettering on a black background, projected onto the big screens around the stage posed a simple question: “Are We Having Fun Yet?”
Amidst the deafening roar that filled York Hall as Morgan Charriere and Paul Hughes starred each other down, I asked myself that very same question. It didn’t take long to find the answer.
Hughes vs Charriere: Eat. Sleep. Fight. Repeat
It takes a certain kind of single-mindedness to achieve truly elite status in sport. You have to be willing to give it your all and when there’s nothing left, give some more. That’s the philosophy Paul Hughes and Morgan Charriere have lived by over the past few years spent campaigning in the notoriously top-heavy Cage Warriors featherweight division.
Both men have faced setbacks. Hughes fell at the final hurdle in an agonisingly close split-decision title-eliminator loss to Jordan Vucenic, the very man who would wrestle the title from Morgan’s grip when the Frenchman’s UFC dream seemed within touching distance. It’s an awful cliché befitting any number of bland Instagram ‘motivational’ influencer posts, but if you really want it, ‘The comeback is greater than the setback’.
And so, with the champion recovering from a hand injury and the second night of The Trilogy needing a main event, the comeback was well and truly on for Hughes and Charriere. As superlatives go though, ‘great’ doesn’t even begin to cover what we witnessed.
The fight itself will be remembered as one of the best in Cage Warriors history; that much is beyond doubt. But what truly made last Friday night one of the most iconic moments in European MMA was as much to do with the people around the cage as those within it. To the left of York Hall, Irish flags and Paul Hughes banners, to the right, le drappeau tricolore and the skull and crossbones of The Last Pirate.
Both sides of the battle (fighters and fans) were relentless in their efforts. Each faction mercilessly booed their opposite numbers, while bellowing in support of their chosen champion. As for Hughes and Charriere, it’s a fight that mere words won’t do justice. If you haven’t seen it, correct that mistake immediately and if you have, watch it again. And again. And again.
As the dust and blood settled, one thing was certain: Both Paul and Morgan exemplify the ‘Eat, sleep, fight, repeat’ lifestyle. Both did everything humanly possible to prepare for their five round classic, both left it all in the cage and both are already contemplating their next moves. Both will be regarded among the best in Europe at 145lbs for some time to come.
The night ultimately belonged to Hughes though, and the outpouring of emotion that followed his hand being raised made it clear to anyone watching exactly what the victory meant to the 24 year old from Lavey, County Derry.
Wooding vs Fletcher: Weapon of Choice
As a relatively young sport, MMA is in a constant state of evolution. But the more some things change, the more they stay the same and there’s nothing quite like a good old striker versus grappler contest. That’s not to say that Dom Wooding and Nathan Fletcher aren’t fully-tooled mixed martial artists; their respective runs to Thursday’s title bout are evidence of that. Still, the weapons of choice for the GB Top Team and Next Generation standouts were always going to be clear cut.
Smart money said that Nathan Fletcher would be hunting early takedowns, with Wooding playing the waiting game while he lined up the kill-shot, and that’s exactly what we saw. Touted as the next big thing out of Liverpool by teammates Paddy Pimblett and Molly McCann, Fletcher was relentless in his efforts to get the fight to the mat in search of a trademark rear-naked choke.
Wooding though, had other ideas. Ahead of the fight he’d spoken about the fact that he’d been through the kind of big-fight trials and tribulations that his undefeated opponent had not. It was this mindset and the patiently executed strategy behind it than saw the momentum shift in ‘The Black Panther’s’ favour as the bout progressed.
With the championship rounds rapidly approaching, Wooding seized his opportunity and let rip with a now-trademark barrage of knees, high-kicks and power-punches, the likes of which few mortal men can withstand. In a division that has produced terrifying champion after terrifying champion, Dom Wooding is now in very good company.
Shanks vs Creasy: You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
In a sport where fairytale endings are often few and far between, it’s always great to see those who’ve travelled a long and winding road finally get their hands on the prize. With twelve years in the game and five of those on the Cage Warriors roster, Sam Creasey has competed among Europe’s elite flyweights for some time, but one thing had always eluded him: The Big Gold Belt.
It wasn’t for want of trying. The ‘Sam-Urai’ had twice contested Cage Warriors gold; putting in solid performances against Samir Faddine and Nathan Greyson before getting clipped hard in both fights. Perseverance and the true martial artist’s mindset of continual improvement got Creasey to the dance for a third time, with wins against Nicolas LeBlond, Adam Amarasinghe and Aaron Aby clearing the path to the 125lb tournament final against former champion Luke Shanks.
Shanks had no intentions of handing anything to Creasey on a silver platter though; he too turned up to the final bout of the final Trilogy with space in his luggage for a Cage Warriors title. Having already reached the top of the flyweight mountain once, dominating the man who knocked-out Creasey no less, ‘The Apocalypse’ arrived looking to exorcise the demons of his loss to Jake Hadley.
After catching his man in an agonisingly close armbar and busting his nose with a series of crisp punches, it looked like Shanks was on the way to doing just that. Yet with his mouth hanging open and blood streaming from both nostrils, Creasey battled back with typical flyweight volume before sealing off a guillotine in the third round for the sweetest of victories.
No doubt the highpoint of a storied career, the title win confirms his status as one of Europe’s premier 125lb’ers and puts to rest any stigma of Creasey being ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’. A true fairytale ending.
For now, the Trilogy series is over, sending the likes of Mason Jones, Paddy Pimblett and Ian Garry to the UFC and crowning Sam Creasey, Dom Wooding and Paul Hughes as new world champions. Each captured gold in thrilling, roller-coaster rides, running the gamut of emotions from heartache to pure, unbridled joy and ushering in another new era for Cage Warriors.
So I ask you… Are we having fun yet?
Brad Wharton is Cage Warriors’ play-by-play announcer, you can find him on Twitter @MMABrad48